I’ve read that people are attracted to being an artist (of any kind) because they have good taste. They start practicing their craft and aren’t satisfied at first because their results aren’t on par with the artists they admire. But with lots of practice and an understanding that they will arrive in due time, they will eventually perform to their own satisfaction. It’s the artists who aren’t instantly satisfied and instead continue to learn and grow that become great and successful; the artists that start out and immediately think they’re awesome have no motivation to improve.
I am always learning. I don’t walk away from a single photo session without a new lesson under my belt. I also admire many beautiful photographers and know that I do not shoot at the same level they do. It’s easy to fall into blaming equipment–those expensive photographers have such great work because they can afford all the latest and greatest. But deep down I know that if I were to hand any one of them my camera and lens they would be able to produce the same wonderful images as they do with all their pricey gear.
Therefore, I am cheap…for now. I have personal and business goals that put my talent at a comparable market rate in the future, and I’m well on my way there. I look back on my work even now and I can see a clear time line of each lesson I learned at each photo shoot. I also see that I can produce photos of decent quality that are of value to my current and potential clients, hence charging a session fee at all.
Oh, and those session fees? They cover so much more than just the hour or two that a photographer is physically with you and actively clicking away at their camera. I used to be one to balk at high price tags for photos–not putting value on the artistry, skill, and business involved to get to that final image.
Thinking start to finish, time is spent: communicating and scheduling the session, traveling there, photographing the session, traveling back, backing up the images, editing the images, backing up the images again, uploading the images, communicating some more, and processing the final product (prints or CD). Even with modest estimates that adds up to two or three times the amount of time spent physically shooting a camera. Add to that the cost of being a business–licensing, insurance, taxes, marketing materials (even just the basics like business cards)–and charging a $100 session fee puts the photographer making minimum wage at best.
The first time I did all the math I was shocked and discouraged at the high dollar amount it’d take to earn a fair wage. And then I set my goals. While I don’t mind not earning that amount while I build my portfolio, I strive to earn it in the future with clients that value everything that goes into that final image hanging on their wall–from the legal business practices to the knowledge and talent to the quality of the end product.
Also, kudos if you actually read any of this :P